Winging to Water

Roseate Spoonbill ~ Platalea ajaja

After interminable rainless weeks, the freshwater ponds at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge became little more than mudholes. Maintenance took place in the form of mowing and cutting, but the always-enjoyable birds disappeared. On my last visit before Thanksgiving, I saw only two Great White Egrets and a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, and they were near the edge of a brackish canal.

After substantial holiday rains, the ponds hadn’t filled, but they became float-and-wade-worthy, and some of the usual residents had returned. I was especially pleased to catch the flight of the Roseate Spoonbill shown above. When I searched out its landing spot, I found more juvenile Spoonbills hob-nobbing with some White Ibis. It’s worth enlarging the photo to see their bright eyes.

At the edge of the Crosstrails Pond, smaller wading birds had collected to feed. I’ve tentatively identified these beauties, but any confirmation or correction is welcome. In the case of the Willet, the dramatic black-and-white wing patterns of the bird in flight seemed unmistakable.

Short-billed Dowitcher ~ Limnodromus griseus
Willet ~ Tringa semipalmata

It’s always a pleasure to see the purple and green iridescence of the White-faced Ibis. During the breeding season, this species has pinkish-red to burgundy facial skin, with a striking rim of white feathers surrounding and extending behind the eye. Outside of breeding season, it retains its red eye color and a pinkish tinge to its facial skin, as it has here.

White-faced Ibis ~ Plegadis chihi

Late in the afternoon, I found an assortment of birds feeding at a culvert; the strongly flowing water clearly contained delectable tidbits. Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Boat-tailed Grackels, Roseate Spoonbills, and White Ibis had gathered, but the stars of the show were a pair of Snowy Egrets. Egrets sometimes extend their wings over open water as they hunt, creating shade to increase visibility. Here, a pair were taking advantage of the afternoon shadows; against the darkness, the delicacy of their wind-blown aigrettes, or breeding plumes, was highlighted.

Snowy Egrets neared extinction by the early 1900s because of a brisk trade in their plumes, considered desirable additions to women’s fashions. With the prohibition of the plume trade in 1913, the Snowy Egret managed to recover its population in most regions; today, loss of habitat is the birds’ greatest threat.

Snowy Egret ~ Egretta thula

Human calendars aside, the birds’ plumes serve as a reminder that courtship and nesting aren’t so very far away. While we focus on winter and its holidays, the birds are preparing for spring, and for the new families that will be created.

 

Comments always are welcome.

When It’s Snake for Supper

 

Because of its size, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is easy to spot, even at a distance. When I noticed this one standing in the middle of a salt flat at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I knew it was well beyond the reach of my camera, but I was interested in the ‘something’ it was shaking with its bill. Assuming it was a large fish, I took a closer look through my camera’s lens, and discovered the heron was dealing with a snake.

At that point, the snake seemed to be in charge, but after a few minutes of tussling it unwrapped itself and dropped to the ground. Clearly still interested, the heron took only seconds to re-enage with the reptile.

After a quick stab toward the ground, he had the snake by the tail: a situation the snake seemed to be evaluating as it raised its head for a better look at its opponent.

After getting a better grip on the situation, the heron paused, then lifted off and flew deeper into the flats, the snake still dangling from its bill. I felt some sympathy for the beautiful (as yet unidentified) snake, but was pleased that I’d been able to witness the sight. I presume that, in time, the heron overcame the snake, and enjoyed an unexpected treat for its supper.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Rejuvenating Rain

 

Carolina Sea Lavender

In early October, when I first discovered Carolina Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum) blooming at the Galveston Island State Park, it already was fading away. Despite missing the height of its flowering, I consoled myself with the thought that when next year’s summer arrived I’d know where to find the plant.

On the day before Thanksgiving, while visiting the Island for other business, I stopped by the park to see if recent rains had perked things up a bit. Halfway around one of the hiking trails, sloshing through water deep enough for boots, I discovered that ‘summer’ had come early. Sea Lavender plants were blooming again, their pretty lavender flowers a nice contrast to the sere grasses surrounding them. 

Other bits of lavender also were appearing. The bright red fruits of the Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum) had disappeared from the landscape, no doubt consumed by the birds and other creatures who find them appealing, but warming temperatures and steady rains had encouraged new growth, and across the flats, half-inch long buds were forming.

Wolfberry bud

Scattered throughout the remnants of drought-diminished plants, their flowers seemed especially colorful. In time, their fruits will re-form: a lovely ‘second helping’ for the creatures who feed on them.

Wolfberry flower

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Sound of One Leaf Falling

 

Listen.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Although no frost occasioned the fall of this November leaf at Brazos Bend State Park, it seemed a fitting illustration for Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquain titled “November Night.”

Invented by Crapsey (1878–1914), her cinquain form relies on traditions seen in Japanese tanka and haiku, including compressed language and formal structure. The five unrhymed lines of a cinquain follow strict requirements; they consist of two, four, six, eight, and two syllables. In addition, Crapsey sought to create the sort of unexpected “break,” or juxtaposition of thoughts, typical of haiku.

Perhaps like Etheree Taylor Armstrong, who invented the poetic form known as the etheree, Crapsey was as interested in the technical problems of her form as in the poetic sentiments they included. As a reviewer in The Independent noted:

To her genuine poetic ability Miss Crapsey added a considerable technical knowledge of metrics. In the verse form which she invented and called the cinquain she has done some of her best work—clear cut ideas sharply focused: single impressions etched in a few significant lines.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more about Adelaide Crapsey and her poetry, please click here.

Investing in Gold

November, 2022

Given recent volatility in traditional markets, not to mention the goings-on in the crypto world, it probably was inevitable that purveyors of gold would make their own run at nervous investors; their advertisements are everywhere. While I don’t intend to start stashing gold coins in the closet as a hedge against inflation, I am a great fan of gold — especially the floral variety.

Year after year, the dependable Camphor Daisy (Rayjacksonia phyllocephala) brightens our coastal landscape in nearly every month, but especially from September through January. The plant is blooming now in even our most droughty areas, and its flowers are providing nourishment for a variety of insects. Just for fun, I thought I’d look through my archives to see what past years have offered.

January, 2019

Even in January, this Calligrapher Fly (Toxomerus marginatus) and a friend found flowers in bloom. This species of hoverfly benefits gardeners; it not only sips nectar, it feeds on aphids.

January, 2019

It’s not hard to spot a Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata). This one was nibbling on the plant’s ray flowers. You can see a bit of evidence at the far left.

December, 2020

Bees of every sort adore this flower. Here, an American Bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus) uses its long tongue to gain nourishment.

December, 2021

More than bumblebees visit the flowers. This Southern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa micans), still out and about in December, seems to be luxuriating in the floral wealth.

October, 2018

The soldier fly family name, Stratiomyidae, was derived from the Greek word stratiotes, or ‘soldier.’  The name refers to abdominal markings that resemble military uniform hash marks. In this species, Nemotelus kansensis, the pattern is especially clear.

January, 2019

There was a time when I believed this pretty white-striped insect was a bee; in fact, it’s a Yellow-shouldered Drone Fly (Eristalis stipator), a species of hoverfly that’s often mentioned as a bee mimic. It fooled me.

October, 2018

In the past week, all of the refuges have received from a half-inch to an inch of rain. That’s enough to coax even more gold blooms into existence, and to coax at least a few gold-lovers into investing more time with them.

 

Comments always are welcome.